At the end of the day it stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries largely due to an unforgettable protagonist who you can’t help but fall in love with.
The Story of Luke (SF IndieFest)
After the great success of the eminently popular Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, there was a deluge of similarly suburban, witty comedies that followed. These indie dramedies, while often good, haven’t stimulated me in a long time. They tend to feel derivative and aimed squarely at the same quirky hipster audience, and all sort of blur together into a pile of acoustic guitars, white people, smart-ass quips, and unrequited love. Though at first glance Alonso Mayo’s The Story of Luke seems to be another entry into the tired “cute ‘n’ smarmy” army of indie films, at the end of the day it stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries largely due to an unforgettable protagonist who you can’t help but fall in love with. This film is pitch-perfect and though not groundbreaking in any way, it consistently hits the sweet spot with deeply touching moments that are guaranteed to win you over by the end.
Luke (Lou Taylor Pucci) is an autistic 25-year-old. He was raised by his grandparents and has led a comfortably hermetic life sheltered from society. When his grandmother dies and his grandfather is sent to a home, Luke is forced of his grandparents’ house to live with his remaining family members who don’t understand him or expect much from him, much like the rest of the outside world. Feeling underestimated, the determined Luke, now with a huge chip on his shoulder, sets out on a mission to conquer the world, which to Luke means finding true love and “screwing.”
Mayo and Pucci work together to create a portrayal of a young autistic male with authenticity and taste. Luke is not a caricature, nor is his condition understated. He comes off as simply a good-hearted person with a daunting goal that he is fighting with all his might to achieve. Who couldn’t relate to that? Luke’s battles to overcome his difficulties with communication are sometimes humorous, sometimes heart-breaking. His bravery and conviction are infectiously endearing.
Tropes of the indie-dramedy variety pop up frequently in The Story of Luke, but they are executed deftly and are elevated by the protagonist’s unique perspective. There is a scene where Luke seeks the advice of his younger cousin, Megan (played by I Declare War’s Mackenzie Munro). This type of scene where a young “wise beyond her years” girl condescendingly advises the older male protagonist typically makes me cringe (ahem…500 Days of Summer…cough), but it works here because the energy between the two feels real, not silly or heavy-handed. Mayo exercises his adept sense of tone throughout most of the movie, only stumbling in a few unfunny scenes between Pucci and Seth Green. Other than a few minor hiccups, the story is effective and engaging.
Mayo uses his camera well, but there are no outstanding shots to speak of. He does succeed in capturing the emotion of the scenes, however, which is a necessity in an emotionally driven story like Luke. There is an absolutely atrocious set we see mid-way through the film that is centered on an amalgamation of monitors and buttons in a dark room that is so jarring and silly I laughed out loud. This might have been the intent, but I feel that something so cartoonish just doesn’t have a place in such a warm, grounded story. In one of the most beautiful and potent scenes in the movie, we see Luke confront his biological mother on a bench by the water. It’s a weighty scene that all parties involved handle perfectly.
Pucci makes you feel just how good-natured Luke is without reaching through the screen by yelling or over-commiting. His performance is charming, quiet and inviting; Pucci is a gifted young talent. His fellow cast-mates support his spot-on performance nicely, giving him lots of room to stretch. Surprisingly, the only slightly jarring performance comes from the experienced Green, who plays the equally socially-challenged Zack, who befriends Luke. Green goes just a tad overboard in some moments, and these scenes would have been better had he just dialed it down a little. Cary Elwes has some great moments with Pucci as his uncle, but Kristin Bauer van Straten’s (as Luke’s aunt) scenes with Pucci are the best in the film, and their relationship and chemistry is a joy to watch evolve.
The Story of Luke delivers a message of acceptance and family with class and honesty. Though Luke doesn’t end up exactly where he expected to be by the end of the film, it isn’t a sad thing. That’s life. Nobody gets precisely what they want in life, but to learn to accept who you are and the importance of family is an invaluable lesson. Luke is an irresistibly heart-warming film with a positive attitude that is guaranteed to make your day a little brighter.